Simon’s Backup Weblog


Thoughts on “Thief Of Time”

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 30, 2002

Not a review this time. There’s not really enough here to review. So just some musings…

Terry Pratchett is a safe buy. You’ll get a few hours of escapism, and some funny moments with familiar characters. There’ll be some hints of popular culture in the jokes, but generally little of relevance to the world outside the book (sure, there are some exceptions, like The Truth, but in general…). The latest Discworld novel to hit paperback is Thief Of Time, which, amongst others, riffs on James Bond, Star Wars and Hong Kong film. It’s a typical Pratchett story where an apprentice is guided by a wiser figure to some form of redemption. We get to meet some old friends along the way, with cameos from characters who’ve starred in other novels, but here we’ve got four or five main characters, only one of whom has had a major role in a previous novel.

It’s interesting that Pratchett is making me think of his books in terms of film, or a TV series. Like Buffy, we’ve followed the Discworld through growth, pain and change. We have a familiar cast of characters, both good and evil, that can be drawn on at will. Pull any from the rack, mix them up a bit, and bingo – instant story. To change the metaphor to food, this is Delia – not a Michelin Star. After finishing Thief Of Time it’s hard not to think that the Discworld is getting a little tired, a little stale. The characters come onto the stage, do their little dances in the way we expect, and then wander off, almost unchanged, to sit on the rack until the puppet master calls on them again.

Mind you, I’ll probably buy the next one anyway.

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Protect your digital rights…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 29, 2002

…and spread around this URL: http://action.eff.org/tinseltown/tinsel.asp

It’s a Flash animation by the EFF that parodies the Mickey Mouse Club theme, and points out that legislative plans sponsored by media conglomerates are targetted at removing both “first purchaser” and fair use rights.

(link found on Boing Boing)

“The Best Comic You Haven’t Read…”

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 29, 2002

…so writes Scott McCloud.

He’s talking about Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder, a series of sequential art SF stories about life in a world very different from our own. I’ve mentioned in previous LJ entries my difficulties with tomorrows that are todays with the serial numbers filed off. That’s certainly not the case with McNeil’s world building. Like Warren EllisTransmetropolitan or Jack Vance’s fiction, Finder is set in a future so far removed from our own that we’re nothing but mythology. Humans have become speciated (probably a result of forgotten genetic manipulations) and split into specialised clans, leaving a fragmented world of small settlements, domed cities and nomadic tribes. It’s a world that’s also shared with other intelligences – not just the ubiquitous AIs – but also dinosauroids, uplifted animals and the leonid Nyima. Civilisations have risen and fallen, there are hints of transcendences, lost technologies and offworld emigrations (as well as immigrations).

There have been three main story arcs within Finder to date (we’re now 3 issues into the fourth), along with some associational material published elsewhere – including the delightful Mystery Date series. The first arc, Sin Eater introduces us to the world, along with one of McNeil’s main characters, the eponymous Finder, Jaeger. But this isn’t a typical adventure comic. This is a story of a dysfunctional family coming to terms with abusive relationships and loss, as well as the little issues of life in the city. Collected in two volumes, Sin Eater was followed by a shorter arc King of the Cats, an episode from Jaeger’s earlier wanderings which explores the complex life of the Nyima clans. The third arc, Talisman is probably the best known, as it’s here that McNeil tells a story about stories, about growing up, about discovery. It’s one of the best pieces of sequential art around, showing just what the medium can do…

You can start reading Finder on the Light Speed Press website, where she’s published 3 issues (including the first issue of the Talisman arc, which was what got me into Finder in the first place), as well as a delightful short set in a bookshop…

(So why am I writing about Finder? Well one way of supporting Carla Speed McNeil is to buy her self-published work directly from her website. It’s well worth doing – my copies of Mystery Date arrived this morning, bundled with two small photocopied booklets of extra stories and footnotes. While those were expected, what was a lovely surprise was the pencil sketch for a page from the current Finder arc, Dream Sequence and a sketch of Jaeger on the compliments slip!)

A toaster…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 28, 2002

…in toast.

In the spirit of ‘s visit to the Tate, I have to ask myself, is this art? And my answer here has to be yes. The artist has had an idea for a strictly representational piece, and has chosen their medium carefully. And the self-referential choice says something to me about how we relate to the world through food, and how we filter everything through our assumptions.

A lunchtime book review: Belarus

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 28, 2002

Lee Hogan’s Belarus is one of those books you buy because of the cover art and the back cover blab, not because of reviews or word of mouth. That’s not surprising really. How often do midlist paperbacks get coverage, even in specialist magazines like Locus? But they’re the books we end up buying, and end up reading, as they contain a few days escape from the mundanities of public transport, for a few pounds or dollars. And they end up as effective house insulation, on the myriad fannish bookcases.

Belarus appears to be a first novel, and it shows it. Not in poor writing, more in a failure of the imagination – or perhaps the author’s failure to trust their own imagination. There are good ideas here, interesting viewpoints on the drive to find a place for one’s self in the world, even if that place is to be marked by nihilistic destruction. Unfortunately they are masked by a plot that mixes elements of Babylon 5 with that particular strand of the serial killer mythos popularised by Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels.

In a far future civilisation (better drawn than that of Altered Carbon, but still too close to the early 21st century), a colonisation party is finalising the terraforming of their new world. Nanotechnological sprites have reshaped the world, and the empty towns and cities are ready for their new inhabitants. Unfortunately for the very Russian colonists, it’s not an empty world. It’s inhabited by an insectoid race that hibernates for much of the time, and is possbly technologically superior to their human invaders. And the aliens like to kill – after torture (then eating livers to taste the nature of their victims). To pull out one of the Babylon 5 resonances, this is like humans colonising Z’ha’dum… Of course, to compound the colonists’ misery, there’s a human serial killer whose actions mask the existence of the aliens. Once the supporting stellar civilisation collapses in genocidal war, the real nature of their new home reveals itself to the now abandoned colony.

Despite its flaws, Belarus is an enjoyable read. Most of the violence takes place off camera, and it’s easy enough to suspend belief in the deus ex machina conclusion (as well as the obvious hook for a possible sequel). I’ll keep an eye out for future books by Hogan…

One of those memes going around…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 28, 2002

How similar are you to me?

You fill in the test, and it tells you how similar you are to one individual who’s already filled in the test… in this case, me…

The traditional weekend update…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 27, 2002

Last weekend began badly. The District Line to Wimbledon melted down on Friday evening, leaving me with what ended up as a two hour journey home on a mix of buses and tubes – at one point having to back track several stops to even begin to make some progress. What’s the point of living inside Zone 2 if that’s the sort of service you get? At least there’s a decent view from the top of a number 14 bus…

Saturday was fairly quiet. I spent most of the morning being extremely geeky, and continued with the endless task of retagging the MP3 collection. At least it’s nearly done now. I also replaced the PSU on the transmitter for the wireless speakers in the bathroom. Next task is to find some way of scripting an MP3 player and sticking a PDA friendly web interface on it, so we can do wireless remote control of the music collection while in the bath… Ah, the delights of truly superfluous technology! Brain freeze was achieved at Starbucks, thanks to a trial of this summer’s non-coffee frappucino “chocolate malt”. Not bad, though I do wish they’d keep seperate blenders for the non-coffee drinks.

and I went round to a friend’s for an evening of chinese food and bad movies. The chinese takeout from McChina was good – especially the deep fried smoked chicken – and the movies were definitely bad. Especially Red Zone Cuba, the MST3K version. Normally MST3King improves a bad movie, but it didn’t work this time! Still, I’ve ended up having to hit Play with an order for Black Books and Clerks: The Animated Series

Sunday was a DIY day, and we rehung the pictures in the kitchen, and increased the shelf count on the Ivar stack. So we actually have two empty shelves in the kitchen! We’ve been steadily increasing shelf count over the last year, and it’s really made a difference to the available surface area. The only problem with the last adjustment was that we couldn’t hang the big print of Day and Night, but yesterday’s rehanging has put it in its rightful place. It’s been in every kitchen we’ve had since Bath, so it’s nice to have it back.

Then it was time to watch some of the buffered Buffies on the Sky+ box. So I’m nearly caught up now, as I’ve seen up to the end of “Entropy”. I’ll watch some more tonight…

Another book review: Altered Carbon

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 26, 2002

Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon is an SF thriller. Or may be it’s a thriller that just happens to be SF. To be honest, it’s hard to tell. Sure, the plot drivers are SF: life extension, mind recording and body swapping, FTL communications, and a slower than light colonisation programme guided by the artifacts of a long gone Martian civilisation. But Morgan’s Bay City owes more to the San Francisco of numerous film noir or the near future of Richard Paul Russo’s Carlucci novels than to the far future. Set at least 500 years from now, everything is just too recognisable, with no explanation for the end of progress.

A retired UN body hopping soldier turned career criminal is imported to Earth from Harlan’s World (a subtle clue to the novel’s underlying plot, as the early shared world novel Harlan’s World was the story of the human colonisation of the planet Medea, and Euripides’ play Medea is a tale of a woman’s revenge after betrayal by her partner). He’s been brought in to use his unique skills to solve the possible murder of a powerful industrialist. As cloning and mind recording are everyday techniques, the industralist is in a new body, missing 48 hours of memory – and he wants to know what happened to end with his death. The result is a blood soaked tour through the vice-ridden underworld of Bay City, with a body count that racks up faster than an Arnold Schwarznegger movie. Politics tangle with revenge, leaving us to poke through red herrings until we come, with our hero, to the final encounter.

Altered Carbon has been getting rave reviews recently – even in the normally literate Vector. Yes, it’s a decent novel, and a reasonably exciting thriller. But it’s certainly not breaking new ground – or even adequately exploring the few new ideas that Morgan has. It’s a pity, as there is so much more that Morgan could do with the scenario he builds. The war between the rich old and the short-lived poor is a mirror to our world of powerful and powerless, yet Morgan just uses it to drive his viewpoint character from set piece encounter to set piece encounter. The ethics of his explicit mind-body duality are glossed over, even though they form the background to the political plot, as are the psychological issues of a world where reincarnation is a matter of credit rating rather than karma.

Still, despite the flaws there’s something promising here, though. Morgan can write, and he has good ideas. Perhaps his next book will be better…

But if you want dark, nihilistic SF, go try M John Harrison’s The Centauri Device

72% Canadian…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 22, 2002

So, the vrai Jerri is proven Canadian

I AM CANADIAN


I am 72% CANADIAN!!!
(Take the Canadian-ness test)

Actually, I have a certificate to prove that I am an honorary Newfoundlander. I have drunk Screech and kissed the cod, and participated in several George Street pub crawls.

And yes, the beaver is a truly pround and noble animal.

The Stone Dance Of The Chameleon: The Chosen

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on May 21, 2002

A few years back I was in a literary APA, which included several folk in my friends list. I treated it somewhat like I treat LiveJournal, a mix of descriptions of life with thoughts on books and comics as leavening. So, I’m planning on dropping a few book reviews into this journal. And there’s no time to start like the present…

When I picked up Ricardo Pinto’s first novel, The Chosen, I wasn’t really planning on getting dragged into someone’s imagined world. I had a long train journey to and from Paris to stock up for (and as it was I actually used the journey to finish Katherine Kerr and Mark Kreighbaum’s Palace and blast through Glen Cook’s latest Garrett novel Angry Lead Skies).

So it was the crowded Monday morning District Line that saw the fat green volume leave my back pack at last. Billed as a fantasy, The Chosen‘s Osrakum and the Three Lands are probably closest to the city of Bekla in Richard Adam’s often overlooked Shardik. Similar to Shardik, this is a fantasy without the trappings of Tolkien. Instead, we are thrust headlong into a richly imagined world, one where a highly regimented society struggles to maintain control through ritual and the power of Law. It’s a fragile society on the verge of great changes. There is no magic, only cruelty. A society built on Mendelian genetics, breeding a master race, control the serfs through violence and brutalisation, in a harsh world. Costume and custom are all, a mix of Mayan and Shogunate cultures dropped into the vicious landscapes of the late Jurassic. Unlike the last novel I wrote about here, the saurians are only background – food and riding beasts, flying predators – but it’s a meticulous background that only adds colour to the dramatic events of Pinto’s story.

A pair of the Chosen, exiled to a hostile wintry island with a household of slaves, are called back to the lush closed world of Osrakum to manage the election of a new God. The initial scenes compare the benevolent, indulgent tyranny of our viewpoint characters, with the uncaring, off hand tortures of the Chosen who come to bring them home. The main viewpoint character is an unworldly son, brought up away from the intrigues of court. We follow him as he journeys across the crowded world, watch him as he learns his true place, and the customs that bind him ever more tightly than the ceremonial robes that weigh him down. As the intrigues and conspiracies culminate in the election of the new God, he finds love in the shape of a mysterious stranger – a love that will lead him into danger, and on into volume two…

Perhaps some of the biblical resonances could have been lost, among them the paradise gardens of Yden, the ranks of Seraphim. A sense of the unworldly doesn’t need the ranks of Angels to give us some links with our world. What we see is a reflection of our desire for security and perfection – and the price that we pay for it, in isolation, in cruelty – and in the pain that it inflicts on both sides of the master/slave relationship.

I’ve already compared The Chosen to Shardik, but there are resonances with two other novels. The political message of the novel has the same intensity as Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, while the tender depiction of a relationship between two men finding their way in a complex world is remiscent of Delany’s Stars In My Pocket, Like Grains of Sand. Some reviews of The Chosen have focused on this relationship, but it’s really a minor part of the novel, a hook that leads us into the waiting sequel: The Standing Dead.

The Chosen is a disturbing book, violent and cruel. It’s also superbly written, with a distinct feel for place and for ceremony. It’s well worth reading.

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